Starfield Can’t Afford To Fail: More Pressure Than Ever For Xbox To Finally Hit A Home Run

Microsoft hasn’t been having a good year. 

We’re barely halfway through the year and already we’ve seen triumphs from the likes of Sony with God of War: Ragnarok, and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. And both of these companies still have more hyped titles forthcoming before the year is out. And then there is Microsoft’s flagship Xbox, backed into a corner with the abject failure of Redfall and little more than a whimper. 

Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty as well as Head of Xbox Phil Spencer have taken responsibility for Redfall’s failure, to their credit. Specifically, Booty identified “tunnel vision” as one of the key reasons for the miss, the inability to “see the bigger picture” during a 2 year period that lacked a landmark release for the company. 

And to most consumers, this is unacceptable. Microsoft has been riding on the coattails of its behemoth acquisition of Bethesda, the landmark studio behind The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchise in 2021, and spent the better part of the last 2 years hyping the upcoming releases of Redfall and Starfield. The lackluster response to Redfall which was reportedly laden with bugs and other shortcomings at launch, bodes ill for Xbox and tacks on yet another stamp of disapproval on Xbox’s offerings. 

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, speaking at an Xbox event with the company logo in the background.
Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, has taken responsibility for the recent failure of Redfall.

Even before Redfall, all eyes have been on Microsoft’s in-house studio 343 Industries, the current developers of the Halo franchise after acquiring the rights from original developer Bungie. Their latest title, Halo Infinite, has been plagued with problems and justified criticisms from the start. Even after a year-long launch delay, Infinite has been criticized for its lackluster multiplayer offerings, overpriced in-game cosmetics, and de-sync issues so prevalent that it makes PvP unplayable in some areas. And despite these numerous complaints, 343 is slow to roll out any fixes, and whether that’s due to conflicts at the top in terms of a path forward, or a lack of funding in these areas, is anyone’s guess. 

All of these factors put more pressure than ever on Todd Howard and the Bethesda team, pressure they honestly don’t deserve but find themselves caught in nonetheless. The recent Starfield Showcase at the beginning of June boasted an extremely impressive display; remarkable ship customizations options, space flight and ground combat, interesting characters and factions, and, most importantly, over 1,000 planets that the player can explore. In Starfield, Bethesda boasts, the player can be a true space explorer, and go and do whatever they please. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a developer has boasted an infinitely explorable universe. 

As excited as I am about the possibilities and potential that exists with Starfield, I’ve been burned before, and the reality is, we aren’t that far removed from when Hello Games made the same promises with No Man’s Sky. And despite the overall turnaround that the game has experienced in recent years, the initial launch has left a sour taste in gamers’ mouths, and left a permanent scar in our collective memories that seems to ache every time we hear the next “big” promise from developers. 

To Howard’s credit, he has since provided some important context and set some expectations ahead of launch, namely, that the game will run at a locked 30 FPS on consoles, and that only about 10% of the discoverable planets within the game will have life on them. I think this is the most critical piece surrounding Starfield’s September release; if you’re going to hype up your game, make sure you also temper expectations where needed. 

Todd Howard, Head of Bethesda Studios, speaks about upcoming game Starfield with the game's title on a screen in the background behind him.
Todd Howard has already worked to set reasonable expectations for Starfield’s release this September.

So what does this all mean? At the end of the day, no failed launch is without consequence, but it’s hard to imagine a Starfield failure being anything less than catastrophic for Xbox. Microsoft has already conceded in the public record that they are losing the console wars, being consistently beat out by the likes of Playstation and Nintendo. Further, they have hit roadblocks at every turn in their quest to purchase Activision for a whopping $69 billion dollars. And in every scenario, Booty remains mum on what contingency plans exist should Starfield fail. 

It’s hard not to suspect that big shot execs within Microsoft are pulling the strings when it comes to the decisions rendered with Xbox Game Studios; most of the more unpopular company directions stink of such influence. When making money takes precedence over producing quality content, you get the reports of abysmal working conditions and inept upper management at 343, all in the name of making a quick buck using Master Chief as the face of the franchise. 

Do I think a failed Starfield launch means the end of Xbox? Personally, I don’t think so; it would certainly be a reckoning, and I think a lot of folks would suddenly find themselves out of a job very quickly amidst an entire company reshuffle. But maybe that’s what Xbox needs. To be clear, I do not want Starfield to fail. I’m as excited about it as everyone else, but I’m tempering my expectations to avoid being disappointed again. That being said, I do think Xbox, and Microsoft as a whole, needs their own “Come to Jesus” moment, and it’s long overdue. You can’t continue to rush projects, churn out unfinished games, charge full price, and not expect backlash over and over again. The buck has to stop with somebody, and maybe a rude awakening is just what the company needs.

Will Starfield reach the heavens? Or will it disappear into the void? Let us know in the comments!

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2 months ago

Nah. Xbots will just fall back on the good old “just you wait until next year PS fanboys, Xbox gonna bring it” malarky like every year, month, week, day.

2 months ago
Reply to  andrewsqual

This Xbox gen feels squandered but for different reasons from the Xbone gen. MS cash keep it afloat